Why it’s vital to get a flu shot during COVID-19
Jaqui Jones, MD, explains why getting a flu shot this year is extremely important. She addresses common flu myths and answers frequently asked questions, including how to avoid a sore arm after a flu shot.
Alyne Ellis: Getting your flu shot every fall is always important. And this year with a pandemic raging, it’s vital. Here to explain why getting vaccinated this year is so very important is Dr. Jacqui Jones, a family medicine physician at Prisma Health. This is Inside Health, a podcast brought to you by Prisma Health. I’m Alyne Ellis. So welcome Dr. Jones.
Dr. Jones: Hi, thanks for having me.
Host: What are the risks of not getting a flu shot in general? And this year in particular?
Dr. Jones: The risk of not getting a flu shot in general is that should you become infected with the flu, there is a chance that you can become really sick. There was a study done in 2018 that showed that the flu shot reduced hospitalization in pregnant women by 40%. So in general, we know that people who get the flu shot tend to have better outcomes. They tend to be less sick. They have shorter courses of their illness in general. In this particular season, when we have the COVID actively going on, along with the flu, it’s going to be potentially dangerous to have both COVID and the flu and the outcomes of that are not predictable at this time.
Host: And for those people who don’t normally get a flu shot, getting the flu can be really make you really sick anyway?
Dr. Jones: Absolutely. The flu is a really dangerous virus. We know that the virus is concerning for our vulnerable populations. People who are immune compromised, our very young population, our older population, we just now throne the middle of the road people, everybody that tended to be safe only because with COVID also being still in the mix. Everybody seems to be at increased risk of symptoms that could land you in the hospital that can make you very ill. That could interrupt what you do day to day.
Host: So, I know there are different types of flu vaccinations. Maybe you could go over what those choices are.
Dr. Jones: It depends on your age and your allergy. So we have a couple of injections. One is high dose. We give a high dose flu vaccine to every one 65 years and older because they need a better immune response so they can be protected. Then there is a select group of us who have an allergy to the egg protein in some vaccines. And since they have an allergy, we don’t want them to react. We want you to have your vaccine safely. So there’s a vaccine there that is safe for people with that allergy. And then it’s also the nasal spray that we can give people. If they, for some reason, have a indication or have a reason to not have the injection. Most of us get the simple injection and have no problems, but we have other alternatives based on your age and your allergy.
Host: So, seniors get the high dose. Most people get the flu shot and who gets the flu mist?
Dr. Jones: So, the people who get the flu are anyone who cannot tolerate the injection, but you have to not be pregnant, you have to be older than two, and you have to not be at risk for needing the high dose shot. So for some reason, you have a Contraindication, a some reason why we can not give you the injection. You can’t tolerate it. There is a reason not to inject. You can have the flu mist we generally do not give the flu mist out in the clinic. Almost everyone gets the injection.
Host: So, what is the best time to be vaccinated?
Dr. Jones: So early fall. So I tell people, it’s going to take you about two weeks to develop the protection that you need against the flu. So as we’re going into the holiday season, October, November, and the flu is ramping up, you really want it to get your flu shot before that hits. So early fall is your key indication. We started them as early as September. I am really pushing everybody to get them now.
Host: But let’s just say for some reason that I missed that. And it’s late in the season. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get one?
Dr. Jones: It is never too late in the middle of flu season to get a flu shot. You can come better, late than never is my philosophy. So if it is December and you have had a change of heart and think you need a flu shot, we are here to give it to you.
Host: So, there’s a real common myth about the flu shot. And one of them is that shot can give you the flu. Is that true?
Dr. Jones: It cannot. Because the flu, the flu vaccine is made of, we call killed virus, meaning there’s no active flu in the vaccine that we’re giving you. This is really an opportunity for your body to build an immune response, to what looks like the flu, but is not active flu virus in your vaccine
Host: About if I decide that I want to get tested for COVID. Does that mean that my having had the flu shot might influence the positive and negative result of a COVID test?
Dr. Jones: To date, there is no evidence that the flu shot is going to put you at risk for being positive for COVID or it’s going to change how you would test, whether that be negative or positive for COVID.
Host: And they’re very safe, flu shots?
Dr. Jones: Yes, they are. Americans have safely received flu vaccines for the past 50 years. They have been very safe. They have a good safety record. We have been doing them for a long time. There is no reason to not get a flu shot.
Host: What about though, if I’m healthy, maybe I just don’t need to get one?
Dr. Jones: So healthy people can have benefits from getting the flu vaccine. The flu season is not selective in who it can or can not affect. And the flu changes from year to year. So it’s important that anyone that has a risk, which is all humans right now, especially as we go into the holiday season and the fall season to get a flu shot.
Host: So, you mentioned that it’s safe for pregnant women to have the flu shot. Can you tell me again what kind they should get and also how it helps to protect both the mom and the unborn baby?
Dr. Jones: So, women can get the flu shot. It’s going to be a regular standard injection. They don’t have any reason to alter their process. So some women have been getting the flu shot every year it begins in the fall. When you’re pregnant, you can also do that. It’s important because as mom is carrying and developing baby, she is also passing those antibodies that she made from her flu shot to baby. So the baby is also getting some protection too. So it’s double protection. Moms are always doing double duty. So that is one way that they’re doing that when they’ve gotten the flu shot.
Host: What about if you’re pregnant or maybe even if you’re not pregnant and you have the flu or you have some COVID symptoms, what do I do in that relationship to getting the shot?
Dr. Jones: If you are having symptoms, I want you to see your doctor. I want you to call your doctor. Your doctor would love to see you and make a decision and a plan on how best to go about vaccinating you from the flu.
Host: So, everything’s good. I’m ready to go. I’m going to get my flu shot, but I’m worried about the virus, the COVID virus. So what’s the safest place that I can go to get the flu shot. Should I choose a doctor’s office or a drive-thru, retail organization? Or what should I do?
Dr. Jones: So, there are prevention guidelines that are in place to keep us safe, whether that be going to your doctor’s office to get the flu shot or going to your local pharmacy. As long as the facility that you’re going to is following the prevention guidelines, you’ll be safe wherever you go to get your vaccination.
Host: And are there any particular precautions that I should take just to protect myself in addition to what everybody else is doing at that office?
Dr. Jones: Well, it’s an opportunity for me to tell you, to continue as always to wear your mask, practice your social distancing practice, good hand hygiene. When you’re going into any facility, even when you’re going to get your flu shot.
Host: And as far as social distancing, I know the doctor’s offices are not bringing in too many people at one time.
Dr. Jones: We are. So we still have our precautions in place. We are limiting how many people are in our office. How many people are sitting in our waiting rooms to keep everyone safe. So even when you come into the doctor’s office, we’re thinking about your safety while we’re also thinking about your protection from the flu.
Host: And it sounds like the safest thing to do is to make an appointment?
Dr. Jones: Absolutely. You can call your doctor’s office. You can make an appointment to get the flu shot. Some of us are making it very easy for you to get in and get out with relatively no wait time, all in the name of getting your flu shot.
Host: And that’s probably true if I were to get it somewhere else too, I would assume?
Dr. Jones: Absolutely. I think that if you go to any pharmacy, they also have their process in place. Getting your flu shot has been made very easy. It should be no sweat.
Host: So, once I’ve gotten the shot, we all know you can walk out of there and then your arm can hurt and just be sore. Do you have some tips for us on how to deal with that?
Dr. Jones: So, it’s normal to have a sore arm after the flu shot, it means that your immune system is working. So keep moving it to spread the vaccine around. If you feel a little swollen, you can always use an ice pack on the first day, that swelling will go down shortly after, but I tell people do have a stiff arm, so make sure you keep moving it. And when you’re getting the flu shot, try to relax, take a couple deep breaths. Don’t make that muscle too tight. Keep that arm relax. It’ll make the whole process much easier.
Host: And what about a pain reliever? Do I need to pop something, a pill to make it feel better?
Dr. Jones: If you’re having a little bit of pain, you can always use the anti-inflammatory like an acetaminophen or an ibuprofen. Either one of those will be fine to help with a little bit of pain and swelling at the site.
Host: Just because I’ve had the flu shot. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t get the flu, correct?
Dr. Jones: This is true. You will decrease your risk. You can decrease the length of time that you may not feel your best, but it does not present us from getting the flu. It does help our immune system turn off quicker and give us better protection, should we be exposed to the flu.
Host: So, what can I do separately from getting the shot to help me protect myself from actually getting the flu itself?
Dr. Jones: We want people to continue their everyday habits, good hand washing, good rest, mask wearing because we happen to be doing in a pandemic, making sure that you are keeping yourself healthy, you’re resting well, you’re taking any medications that you’re supposed to be on. And that you’re really keeping overall your total care normal and your normal routine, and healthy.
Host: And if the flu should find me and I started having symptoms, what advice do you have for me?
Dr. Jones: I recommend that you give your doctor a call, let them know that you were having symptoms. We do have medications that we can give, but as long as you have been only having symptoms for about two days or earlier, please give us a call so we can have you come in and you can see us.
Host: And normally the flu can be treated at home?
Dr. Jones: So, if you’re having relatively mild symptoms and you feel safe to be a stay at home, you can always stay at home. You can take Tylenol or ibuprofen for any fevers. You can always eat normally, you can rest and as your symptoms improve, you’re welcome to stay at home. If your symptoms start to get a little bit worse and you need to be seen, give us a call and we’d like to see you in the clinic.
Host: Maybe we could really zero in on when should I seek more help? Is that when my fever gets up, say above 101, or what kind of tip offs would you give me to make me really suggest, I need to pick up the phone?
Dr. Jones: If you are having a fever, which is going to be a 100`.4 or higher, if you’re having shortness of breath, if you are feeling really uncomfortable, if you’re having lots of body aches, lots of pain, and you think that this is worsening and not getting better as you expected it to do since you’ve become ill. That is a really good time to give us a call to come in, to be seen and make sure there’s not more that we can do to help you get better.
Host: And I know that you can’t give me an antibiotic that would treat the flu, and maybe you could explain why that doesn’t work. But in fact, an antiviral medication given early does?
Dr. Jones: The flu is a virus. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. So these are two different kinds of causes. The flu is being caused by a virus and we don’t use antibiotics to treat a virus. We really only use antibiotics when we’re treating a bacterial infection.
Host: Anything else you’d like to add, Dr. Jones?
Dr. Jones: I just want to really encourage everyone to get their flu shot. I have had mine, I think of all the years, if anyone has ever been on the fence about it, this is the year to get off the fence and really get some protection from the flu. As we continue to battle through this COVID fall season.
Host: And it would be possible to get COVID in the flu at the same time, right?
Dr. Jones: So, it would be, I think that COVID and the flu is going to be an option and probably going to occur in some people. And while we hope that everyone does well, this will be a new experience for healthcare providers, for patients alike. And I want people to stay as safe as possible by protecting themselves from something that we can protect them from, which is the flu while we battle the COVID.
Host: Thank you so much, Dr. Jones for this important information about the flu and getting the flu vaccine.
Dr. Jones: Thank you for having me.
Host: Dr. Jacqui Jones is a family medicine physician at Prisma Health. To find out more about the flu, go to PrismaHealth.org/Flu. And for more on coronavirus, the link to check is PrismaHealth.org/Coronavirus. To hear other podcasts like this, go to PrismaHealth.org. This has been Inside Health, a podcast brought to you by Prisma Health I’m Alyne Ellis, stay well.
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